Biosurfactants are often discussed in reference to bioremediation and wastewater treatment. Microbial produced surface tension depressants, biosurfactants, are produced by many microbes to improve efficacy of exocellular enzymes in brining vitals components across the cell wall. The biosurfactants improve access to non-polar organics (fats, oils & grease) while also enhancing access to inorganic micronutrients. The biosurfactants also play a role in the biofilm formation.
Biosurfactants are not a single compound, each group manufactures different biosurfactants that exhibit differing properties. The most commonly encountered biosurfactants are:
Glycolipids - low molecular weight compounds consisting of carbohydrate and lipid components. Synthesized by representatives of the Rhodococcus, Nocardia, Pseudomonas, Candida genera.
Lipopeptides - low molecular weight compounds consisting of a peptide (protein) and lipid parts, the most well-known are from Bacillus genus.
Fatty acids and phospholipids - fatty acids are formed at alkanes oxidation and may be released into the environment by Rhodococcus sp. Phospholipids are synthesized by representatives of the Acinetobacter and Corinebacterium genera.
Polysaccharides - extracellular polymeric compounds with powerful emulsifying properties. Such biosurfactants formed by a wide range of microbes and are part of the biofilm formation process.
All biosurfactants can be divided into two major groups - low (glycolipids, lipopeptides) and high (extracellular polymers) molecular weight surfactants, which differ in physiology and surface active properties.
Biosurfactants are interesting to scientists as they are highly effective at reducing water surface tension at low concentrations. Additionally, biosurfactants exhibit superior properties to synthetic surfactants including:
· Lower toxicity
· High biodegradability
· Activity over a wide range of pH and salinity values
· Ability of biosurfactants to be manufactured in-situ or from waste compounds in industrial production.
Erik Rumbaugh has been involved in biological waste treatment for over 20 years. He has worked with industrial and municipal wastewater facilities to ensure optimal performance of their treatment systems. He is a founder of Aster Bio (www.asterbio.com) specializing in biological waste treatment.
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